Off The Draw
In the wake of the firing of Oilers coach Dallas Eakins on Monday, the trade rumor mill began churning at a furious pace. Surely, the speculation went, Edmonton's braintrust recognized that the problems that are eating away at this organization go much deeper than a coach who was paralyzed by indecision. And since management clearly was disinclined to hold itself accountable, the next sacrifice has to be made at the roster level.
And it will be a big one.
A team with this many holes to fill simply can't afford to think small anymore. Anything less is lip service to a “process” that's fooling no one anymore.
So, who goes? At this point no one on the team is untouchable, although as a legitimate top-six center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins comes close. Let's cross him off the list.
Nail Yakupov? No doubt they'd be willing to listen to any offers, but his play to this point has crushed his trade value. Considering the bag of pucks they'd likely get in return, they might as well keep him.
Jordan Eberle? Possible, although anything involving him is likely to be a one-for-one swap that trades skill for size or character or some other elusive quality. It's painting the walls but leaving the cracks unfilled.
That leaves Taylor Hall.
The thought of losing the first pick in the 2010 draft will mortify many Edmonton fans, and it should. This is the guy who was picked ahead of Tyler Seguin ... and we've all seen how well it's worked out for the Bruins, who grew tired of Seguin's act after just three seasons.
But damn the risks. Hall is the only commodity that gives general manager Craig MacTavish a chance to truly reshape this club. And if MacTavish has any courage—or any sense of the sword that's hanging over his own head after the Eakins firing—he has to recognize that this is his play.
So, who does he call?
Start with the Blue Jackets. Rumors have been flying during the past month that the two teams were exploring a trade involving lesser players, so the channels appear to be open. And Columbus may have the player Edmonton needs in Ryan Johansen.
Most teams aren't inclined to move big, highly skilled centers, but Jarmo Kekalainen is no ordinary GM. He's not gun shy when it comes to moving problems (Marian Gaborik) and he's always got his eye on the future. If he feels that Johansen—who dragged out his recent contract talks into the new season—will be unsignable as an unrestricted free agent after his new three-year deal expires, he might be inclined to make a bold move of his own. He has the courage of his convictions and some depth at the position to soften the loss. It could happen.
The Bruins would likely be interested, although they wouldn't unretire the number 4 to make Hall happy. Would they be willing to part with Dougie Hamilton? That's likely the name that gets talks moving in the right direction.
Tampa Bay has a wealth of young talent and a strong desire to make a statement in the Eastern Conference. Any deal would have to start with Jonathan Drouin and then be sweetened with a high-end defensive prospect like Slater Koekkoek or Tony DeAngelo and another young NHL-ready forward. A hefty price, but the thought of Hall on the wing with Steven Stamkos would make Lightning GM Steve Yzerman giddy.
The list of possible suitors will only grow as the season progresses. Detroit's Ken Holland has made a few blockbuster deals over the years and if the Red Wings are in the hunt for the Eastern title he might be induced to move top prospect Anthony Mantha in a package. The Islanders are loaded with defensive prospects and could include an NHL-ready young center like Ryan Strome in a package. The Ducks have the deepest system in the league and could package Hall's former junior teammate Cam Fowler with a young forward without creating any unfillable holes. And what about the Sabres? Buffalo has an embarrassment of riches on the back end, led by Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen, and an enviable group of young forwards and high draft picks.
At this point it's all speculation, but MacTavish can't afford to sit back and hope the allure of interim coach Todd Nelson helps fill all those empty seats at Rexall Place.
Let's see what he has up his sleeve.
What to watch tonight
A battle between two of the league's hottest teams ... and the Maple Leafs are involved? It's Ripley's Believe It Or Not, I'm tellin' ya. Anaheim comes into this one riding a seven-game winning streak while Toronto has taken five straight and is 9-1-1 in its past 11.
The Ducks roster will be bolstered by the recall of forward Dany Heatley. The veteran winger could see time with a pair of red-hot centers. Ryan Getzlaf has four goals and 10 assists in his past eight games. Ryan Kesler has four goals and six points in his past five. Anaheim also brought up Ilya Bryzgalov, who is expected to back up Frederik Andersen tonight, but whoever's between the pipes will be up against history. All-time, the Leafs are 12-2-1 with four ties on their own ice against Anaheim. Phil Kessel was a Duck killer last season, scoring four goals and two assists in their two meetings, including a hat trick in a 4-2 win in Toronto.
“They've got our number,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said ahead of tonight's game against Los Angeles. “It's our job to play catch up.”
Close doesn't cut it anymore for St. Louis in this frustrating matchup. The Kings have knocked the Blues out of the playoffs twice in the past three years and have won nine of their past 11 regular season games as well, including a thrilling 1-0 shootout decision back on Oct. 16. “Every time we play them, they’re good hockey games” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think the players’ heightened sense of urgency on both sides is there. Quite frankly, they’re fun to play in.”
It'll be even more fun for the Blues if they get the result they want. They're catching the Kings at the tail end of a five-game trip that's gone 1-2-1 so far, but they'll have to find a way to solve Jonathan Quick. The keeper has dominated the Blues since the start of the 2011-12 season, going 14-3-0 record with a miserly 1.23 GAA.
Rest of the schedule: Lightning at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; SUN, CSN-PH); Hurricanes at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-CR, RDS, SNE); Blue Jackets at Red Wings (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-O, FS-D); Capitals at Panthers (7:30 p.m. EST; CSN-DC+, FS-F); Bruins at Predators (8 p.m. EST; NESN, FS-TN); Sabres at Jets (8:30 p.m. EST; MSG-B, BELL TV, TSN3); Wild at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; FS-N, FS-WI, CSN-CH); Rangers at Flames (9 p.m. EST; MSG+, SNF); Oilers at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; SNW, FS-A)
What you missed last night
The numbers game
• The Penguins (20-6-4) have now beaten the Lightning in 10 straight games, and their most recent win helped them tie their team record for most points (44) after the first 30 games of a season set in 2012-13 when Pittsburghs started at 22-8-0.
• After being the Devils in a shootout, the Islanders are now the first team in NHL history to win their first nine extra time games in a given season.
• The suddenly smoldering Sabres are now 10-3-0 in their last 13 games and have won six straight on home ice, their longest such streak since Jan. 17 to Feb. 15, 2007.
• In a day filled with hot takes, Mark Spector offers what might be the most scathing indictment of the Edmonton organization in the wake of the dismissal of coach Dallas Eakins.
• Metallica Night at the Shark Tank. How can this not be great?
• You say you've been waiting for a parody song about the NHL's mumps outbreak set to the tune of Taylor Swift's "Blank Spaces?" We've got you covered.